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Navy looks to drop more Littoral combat ships

The littoral combat ship USS Coronado conducts operations in the Sulu Sea, Feb. 20, 2017.
US Navy
The littoral combat ship USS Coronado conducts operations in the Sulu Sea, Feb. 20, 2017.

A class of Navy ships with a long history in San Diego is now on the chopping block. The Littoral combat ship was designed to be small and fast so it could operate close to shore.

The Navy announced this week that it wants to decommission nine of these ships as part of its annual budget request to Congress. One of the ships being considered is less than 2 years old. All are from the ship’s mechanically troubled Freedom class of LCS, said Bryan Clark, a former Naval officer who is now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

“The ships had lots of problems,” Clark said. “Ships have had to be towed back to port. Ships have been unable to go on deployment. Ships have been stranded in places where they had to be repaired in place, so those have all been really problems of the Freedom class.”

RELATED: San Diego Contractors Encouraged To Focus On Littoral Combat Ship

Developed in the mid-2000s, the LCS program was sidelined by cost overruns and an overly ambitious set of missions that included requiring that the ships track submarines and detect mines. To keep shipyards in Wisconsin and Alabama running, the Navy even kept building two types of the same ship. All of the more successful Independence class ships are home-ported in San Diego.

“The Independence class, which is the other class, seems to be performing very well,” Clark said. “It's on deployment right now. Three of the Independence-class ships are deployed to the Southeast Asia region out of Singapore and Guam. They've been very effective; they don't have the propulsion train problems; they're beginning to carry some of these longer-range cruise missiles. So I think the Navy sees the Independence class as a useful small surface-combatant ship going forward.”

San Diego was often the test lab for the LCS as the Navy tried to work out the bugs. The first four ships were ported here to be used for training, before they were also retired. None of the remaining ships is over 10 years old.

Rather than continue to purchase more LCS vessels, the Navy has since moved on to building a new frigate. San Diego will become the home for all 16 of the active Independence class ships, after the last LCS is delivered from the shipyard. If Congress agrees with the Navy, a few remaining Freedom class ships will be based at Naval Station Mayport in Florida.

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